In my daily research for my other blog, Relevant Mom, I routinely bookmark articles I come across that I want to come back to for inclusion or comment. Since my beat is news and current events, if I don’t feel moved to write about it within the week, I feel it probably isn’t relevant enough to my audience either, and I discard it and move on. I have to do this; my nature is such that I would quickly amass a vast collection of tidbits that, let’s face it, I probably will never have time to come back to again; I’m a mom to a toddler and a fledgling writer, I barely get a shower.
But I have had one article bookmarked for weeks now, that I just can’t seem to get myself to delete. It keeps taunting me, like the bill I just don’t want to pay sitting on my desk, drawing my guilty glance as I go about my other business. And, here’s the odd part, it isn’t even relevant to what I write about usually. Or is it?
The article analyzed what was driving the appeal of the latest installment in the Batman blockbuster movie series. I haven’t even seen the movie. But what I think has been riveting me for weeks now is the teaser for the article: “It’s violent, political and plays on our innermost fears.”
The article goes on to delve into the political debate that arose around the film’s characterizations and plot, with both sides claiming that it described their version of political reality. I’m always interested in the political dimension, but it still doesn’t answer my own question to myself, “Why can’t I get this phrase out of my head?”
Finally, tonight, I decided the only way to stop this daily lunacy of chiding myself that “I really ought to write something about that,” was to just get it done and actually write something about this. But what exactly? The cursor blinked mockingly at me.
Fear is a central topic in my life; what is it, why does it plague me, and what do I do about it? And it occurs to me that one of the things that drives me to want to know so much is my need to find a way to control it. Fear is also a powerful weapon bandied about by those that would lead us, and those that would also garner our ratings.
For me, I return time and time again to Chaucer and The Canterbury Tales; the subject of a life altering upper division class in my major that every student put off until the last possible conceivable moment, and prayed that they got the easiest professor they could for it. That was not my fate, nor my choice (more on that in a moment). I did delay it until my last crammed academic quarter of college, where if I didn’t perform well, and also pass the Chemistry class I also inadvisably left to the bitter end, I would tarnish my otherwise stellar major performance (very important to me at the time), and cost myself several thousand dollars (I didn’t have) to come back and complete it. I ended up with the professor with the meanest, nastiest and most gulp producing reputation in the class. It turned out to be the best experience of my life, and has shaped all that has come behind it. Some time I need to write down exactly what that experience was like, because the intersection of a truly great teacher and a student wide open and at the moment in their lives that they are ready to hear their teaching is a thing of magic. But, back to the point.
The seminal thing I took away from that class was the question at the crux of humanity that the Tales take up as their frame: “Do we act, or are we acted upon?” Did I choose to delay the class and what happened just happened, or was I meant to delay the class and brought to just that moment in time to take me to the next level of my thinking? Or, was it a combination of both? I still don’t know. I think that the lack of an answer to questions such as these that give us a window into whether or not we are in control of our lives, or exist within a state of chaos, is “our innermost fear.” The plays we subsequently mount upon the world stage in one way or another reflect our views about where we feel we stand along the spectrum of Chaos and Control. I also look for clues from the candidates as to where they stand along this spectrum as well.
So, I think that what keeps drawing me back to this phrase is my preoccupation with what at this moment in time are the implications of the choices we have before us, and the fate that we may consign ourselves to, perhaps violent and political, if we are driven by our fears.
Or it could just be I’m playing right into the hands of the media, new and otherwise, whose new litmus test is now “violent, political and plays to our innermost fears,” supplanting, “who, what, where, when, why, and how.”
I can now delete the article from my bookmarks, but the question still lingers.